Over the summer, I got an idea from someone in my Edmodo community in regards to project based learning and foreign language. My friend Wikipedia had this to say about this new educational buzz theory called Project Based Learning: “the use of in-depth and rigorous classroom projects to facilitate learning and assess student competence. Students use technology and inquiry to respond to a complex issue, problem or challenge. PBL focuses on student-centered inquiry and group learning with the teacher acting as a facilitator”.
So with months of preparation, I created Misterios en Madrid. This mystery project will serve as my concluding assessment project for Spanish 1 at the end of 2nd semester. To test it out, I had my Spanish 2 class start the year with it. I had the students working in groups of 3 or 4. They would assess each other throughout the steps.
Misterios en Madrid had 4 parts, or pasos. The first group to complete each paso received 100% and subsequent groups received a slightly lower grade than the group ahead of them. This increased the urgency and brought a competitive component to the activity. At the beginning of each paso, I presented the material and gave a final task that needed to be completed. The paths each group took from the beginning to the correct completion of the final task varied. The goal was for each group to complete that final task.
In order to complete the final task of each paso, students had to use a variety of materials. Throughout all of the pasos, I used the following materials: written clues in Spanish, VoiceThreads in Spanish, Voki’s in Spanish, maps, pictures and other realia (authentic materials in the target language, such as party invitations, hotel information brochure and hotel receipts.)
- I enjoyed the “hands-off” role I played during worktime on the Mystery. The students had a lot of work to do during each paso. I facilitated but did not lead. The students really led themselves through the activity. I was there, in the background, to catch them if they fell or to answer specific questions.
- Students really had to think critically about the steps they needed/wanted to take in order to complete the tasks at hand, without me feeding them the steps and procedures. I feel that in other contexts, teachers provide students with so many guidelines that they just move through the motions towards completion like widgets on a conveyor belt.
- I had 17 different groups working on Misterios en Madrid and had 17 different projects or experiences. Every group worked a different way and created their own path. At first I worried that groups would try to hard to emulate each other (or the group they perceived as the most successful) but after the first paso was over, I felt that the students started just to do what worked for them and their group.
- There were no “super groups”. I was happy to see so much parity in Misterios en Madrid. In one class, the groups that finished 1st and last during Paso Uno completely flip-flopped for Paso Dos. I think that added to the feeling that anyone can and could be successful. When I immediately split the groups, students expected certain groups to dominate and stifle everyone else, because in a traditional setting, these students do rise to the top. But the variety of skills need to complete a Paso combined with the open direction concept left the door open for anyone to succeed.
- I created a few extra credit opportunities for students to work on in addition to Misterios en Madrid to offset any bad days, miscues or unsatisfactory outcomes of the grading of each Paso. One of the extra credit opportunities I gave was for students to Tweet with the hashtag #MisteriosenMadrid. It created a social media conversation about our Spanish class activities. I figured, I know some of my students are already Twittering, why not encourage them to Tweet about what we are doing? It was a fun by-product of our activities and although it didn’t add anything academic to our class, it did add to our positive classroom culture and positive student interactions.
- I’ve had successful students before but I never saw so many proud students at the completion of each task. I would literally see sighs and smiles and looks of accomplishment and pride that I don’t normally see when someone does a super job on a worksheet. (See more about pride below)
- I asked some of my students to blog about their experience in our Spanish 2 Blog. Feel free to read their comments. One student, Brianna, writes an especially great blog about her group’s experience, recalling the steps, successes and frustrations they encountered. Really, she says it better than I could.
- Other than the work “pointless”, I’m pretty pleased with the feedback. The project based direction of the class was different, thus for some students, very challenging and frustrating and stressful. It’s easier when the teacher can just tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get done with your work.
- Although some of the feedback is quite negative (dumb, horrible, lame), I felt that each person at one point or another during the experience had a good moment; an ah-ha moment of pride. While one girl told me that she had nightmares about this project and couldn’t stop thinking about it at night, I had another Tweet to all her friends about how “totally accomplished I feel having just finished 1st in #MisteriosenMadrid”.
- But it was work. Three weeks of non-stop work where there weren’t many places to hide or slink away and just hope the teacher doesn’t call on you. You and your group were responsible for a task, and if that task doesn’t get done . . . completely on your shoulders. That type of work is rarely welcomed by a fifteen year old, so I understand the feelings of “dislike”.